This weekend director Andrew Stanton, famous for Pixar animations A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E, made his live-action debut with John Carter. There’s a saying that goes something like this: first you need to learn how to walk before you can run. Andrew Stanton, while he did cut his teeth in animation, jumped straight to a 50 mile marathon with the $250 million sci-fi epic John Carter.
But he is not the only animation director that makes his live-action debut this month. Phil Lord and Chris Miller of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the Oscar nominated 2009 animated flick from Sony, are bringing 21 Jump Street to the big screen next week.
Obviously the duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are taking things slower compared to Andrew Stanton and unfortunately for the latter his first live-action flick is proving to be something of a box office bomb for Disney. According to estimates, John Carter opened with $30.6 million which is in line with expectations but a lot lower then what it should be doing in order to get a pass.
Over the years there have been more than a few directors that started in animation and then successfully transitioned to live-action. The following is not a ‘top list’ of the most popular individuals but more a collection of 5 directors in no particular order who managed to turn at least one or two box office hits during their live-action ventures.
Co-director of the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time, The Lion King, Rob Minkoff successfully transitioned to live-action (though not 100%) with Stuart Little back in 1999. It was a not so little film (no pun intended, the film did cost $133 million) based on the classic children novel of the same name written by E. B. White, that blended a computer generated hero (Stuart Little) with a live-action almost everything else. The movie went on to gross $300 million worldwide and even spawned a sequel released in 2002, handled again by the same Rob Minkoff, one that made quite a bit less ($170 million worldwide). He went back to Disney and in 2003 opened the rather bad Eddie Murphy comedy, The Haunted Mansion with a worldwide total of $182.3 million. Since then he also directed The Forbidden Kingdom, somewhat successful with $128 million around the world, and Flypaper, a movie almost no one saw when it opened in just 2 theaters back in August last year.
This guy right here co-directed one of the last Disney hand-drawn animations before the computer generated tide came and swept everything away, namely Tarzan. With $448.2 million worldwide in 1999, it was a very successful film so for his live-action debut, Disney handed him the reins to 102 Dalmatians, the sequel to the live-action remake of the 1961 animated classic. With only $183.6 million worldwide, 102 Dalmatians was not as successful as 101 Dalmatians (1996) and its $320.6 million. Also, the movie was kind of bad so not the best live-action start for Kevin Lima. Fortunately for him, Enchanted, his 2nd live-action adventure, proved to be a hit with both critics and the general audience, and took $340.5 million worldwide which was a damn good rebound for Kevin Lima. Disney are actually planning an Enchanted 2 for 2014 according to IMDB. Recently Kevin Lima went back to his roots for DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming Monkeys of Mumbai.
Bird directed the magnificent The Iron Giant and then joined Pixar to direct The Incredibles and co-direct Ratatouille. With such a pedigree no wonder Tom Cruise was so keen on having him helm the 4th Mission: Impossible movie. So Brad Bird made his live-action debut last year in December with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and considering that film made $686.1 million worldwide so far, I’d say this is arguably one of the best transitions from one medium to another. Truth be told, Mission: Impossible was already a household name but following Mission: Impossible 3, there were probably a few execs at Paramount scared that Brad Bird would not deliver. Looking back now, he more than delivered. Possibly up next for Brad Bird is 1906 for Warner Bros, a movie centered on the historical San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that he’s been trying to get made for a while now.
Co-director of Shrek 1 and 2 for DreamWorks Animations, Andrew Adamson made a big leap into live-action with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005. As you may remember, after Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings were adapted into very profitable movies that spanned multiple entries, every other studio wanting a piece of the cake and went after just about all the big fantasy books out there. Most of them failed miserably but Narnia was one of the exceptions. Based on the very popular first Narnia book by C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe generated $745 million worldwide so you can’t blame Disney for thinking they struck gold again.
With the second book, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian adapted in 2008, again under Andrew Adamson, they went all out and spent $225 million ($45 million more than the original). Disney also moved the release date from December to May, something they probably regret now. Anyway, Prince Caspian was a huge disappointment with just $419.6 million worldwide so the house of mouse ended up dropping the series, thus leaving Fox more than happy to continue where they left off, sans Andrew Adamson. According to IMDB, the director has now finished one of his next project, Cirque to Soleil: Worlds Away for a tentative 2012 release date while the other, Mister Pip, is still in post-production also for a 2012 release.
Probably not many know this but Tim Burton actually started as an animator at Disney, working on The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron. While his career in animation wasn’t as long or prolific as the other names on here, Tim Burton is arguably the most successful director to make the jump to live-action with big hits like Batman ($411.3 million worldwide), Batman Returns ($266.8 million), Sleepy Hollow ($206.1 million), Planet of the Apes (2001, $362.2 million), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ($475 million) and Alice in Wonderland (2010, $1,024.3 million). Then there are other great films he made, maybe not as popular but still noteworthy, titles like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street or his return to stop-motion animation, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. For 2012 he has two films in post-production, Dark Shadows based on the popular 60’s TV show, and stop-motion animated flick Frankenweenie based on a live-action short he directed in 1984.
So who do you think made the smoothest transition from animation to live-action? Or who you like best? Also, if I missed someone feel free to mention him and contribute to this post!